Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Save the Book Reviews!

There has been tons of press about the recent cuts newspapers across the nation have made to their book review sections. (More press about the disappearance than actual reviews?) Last week, we posted Michael Connelly's piece from the LA Times. The New York Times addressed the topic this past Wednesday, as did Publishers Weekly way back in Oct. 2006. Today on Salon.Com, David Kipen wrote, "Newspaper Web sites are only too happy to divulge the top 10 most read or e-mailed stories of the day; the bottom 10, not so much. Still, to judge by the torrential hemorrhaging of book coverage in just the past couple of months, you might think that book coverage owned a lock on last place. Instead, strong anecdotal evidence suggests that book reviews fall somewhere near the middle. So why don't editors feel as sentimental about them as they do about plenty of other stories that won't ever knock terrorist attacks or wardrobe malfunctions out of the top 10? For one thing, freelancers contribute most of the copy to newspaper book review sections, and freelancers cost a few extra bucks. For another, trying to publish a review of every halfway interesting new book each week is like trying to review every new video on YouTube. It's beyond hopeless. So why should we blame some harried arts editor for thinking, that beat's uncoverable. Let's just give up and run sudoku-plus instead."
We at the Inkwell have wondered about the lack of book coverage in our two local papers. When a book is mentioned, it tends to be by a local Cape author. Maybe the newspapers don't know the end result, but those reviews do drive sales. We immediately get requests for the featured books. Out of all the arts, books get the least coverage here on the Cape. Theatre, live music, and movies dominate the Arts & Entertainment section. Would it smack of rank marketing if we sent in some freelance reviews free of charge?

There's hope. Kipen says, "To its credit, the National Book Critics Circle is not taking any of this lying down. It has posted a list of tips on how to help save book reviews here. It's circulating a petition here to reinstate Teresa Weaver, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's gifted, recently cashiered book editor. Most enjoyably, the NBCC's already compulsively readable blog, Critical Mass, has posted jeremiads about the crisis not just from critics but from a steadily massing murderers' row of authors: Nadine Gordimer, George Saunders, Richard Ford, Roxana Robinson, Andre Codrescu, Rick Moody, Stewart O'Nan."